Margaret Blechynden’s Last Will and Testament, 1682

Margaret Blechynden (nee Aldersey) died in c 1683. Her will was first published in 1682/3 but then republished in July 1683 “least it should be lost”. It is worth reflecting on the will because it shows that she was not just the wife of a cleric (albeit one who initially enjoyed noble and Royal patronage) but someone with social standing in her own right. When she writes her will she describes herself as being of the Parish of St Paul Covent Garden which was still at that time a fashionable part of town for the gentry and nobility. She makes no specific request about where to be buried just that she be decently buried according to the Liturgy of the Church of England. So, until a burial record comes to light we don’t know if she is buried with her husband – likely to be buried in Aldington in Kent – or in London, or perhaps with her Cheshire family.

Provision for her children in her will

There is no reference to land or properties in her will, bar a passing reference (see below), so presumably those were set out in her husband’s will. We know that her son Thomas was heir to the properties in Kent and specifically the family home in Ruffins Hill, but it is nevertheless surprising not to see some reference to this. In terms of financial provision she gives her two sons, Thomas and Theophilat “five broad pieces of Gold” each and her daughters (Anne, Mary, Margaret, Dorothy) get “five pounds a piece in silver” which are in lieu of the legacy of five pounds a piece that were in their fathers will. Clearly they never received what was in their fathers will but Magaret justifies this by saying that she is “well satisfied that I have made up to my daughters much more of their portions then ever came to my hands”.

There is a confusing passage in the will where Margaret chides her son Thomas for not being as careful as he should have been in receiving and accounting the rent of the Courtlage (the only property mentioned) and says to “supply his default” she is willing to give £200 divided into three parts but none of the thirds go to Thomas! One third goes to daughter Margaret, one third goes to Dorothy and one third to daughter Mary’s children. Mary gets no part of the £200 because her mother previously gave her £100 “besides other advantages”.

There is a further £50 which is divided between Margaret’s sons – half to Theophilat and half amongst Thomas’ children.

Gifts to wider members of the family

George Saville, 1st Marquess of Halifax, statesman, writer and politician

After the financial provision to her children and grandchildren Margaret Blechynden sets out who is to receive her jewellry and other items of value. This is interesting because it helps to confirm family relationships. The first mentioned in her will is “my Lord Halifax” who is bequeathed “the Medall of King Charles the first in gold and the small ring tied to it.”  Lord Halifax is George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax, the son of her cousin Anne Coventry via her marriage to Sir William Savile (3rd Baronet of Thornhill, an ardent Royalist who was killed in action in 1644). Anne Coventry was the daughter of Thomas Coventry, 1st Baron Coventry of Aylesborough, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and Elizabeth Aldersey, sister to Samuel Aldersey. I could write much about Lord Halifax but for now will just note that he was took the popular side on the occasion of the trial of the Seven Bishops in June 1688, visited them in the Tower of London, and led the cheers with which the verdict of “not guilty” was received in court. I mention this because one of the seven bishops was the Bishop of Peterborough, Thomas White, nephew of Dr Thomas Blechynden and Rev Francis Blechynden as mentioned in an earlier post.

Margaret’s Sister Venables

The next item that Margaret bequeathes is her “biggest Diamond Ring” to her sister Venables which was their mothers. Her sister Venables is Elizabeth Aldersey who married first Thomas Lee esq. of Darnhall, Cheshire and had seven children. One of the children, her nephew Thomas Lee, is named in Margaret’s will as a sort of assistant to the Executor of the will. Elizabeth’s husband Thomas Lee died in 1642 and she eventually remarried General Robert Venables of Antrobus and Winsham. Unlike many of Margaret Blechynden’s family and friends General Venables fought on the Parliamentarian side but they did not marry until 1654.

Elizabeth’s diary has been published along with an account of the life of General Robert Venables and provides useful insights and information for family historians. General Venables died in 1687 and Elizabeth Venables in 1689.

The next item Margaret bequeathes is her large pearl ring which she gives to her son Theophilat’s wife. Unfortunately she does not name her and I have not been able to identify her. It may be an “Elizabeth” given a baptism record I have found – George Blechenden son of Theopheleck and Elizabeth Blechenden, 12 Jun 1688, in Rochester Kent – but I have no other information at this time.

sir samuel eyre

Sir Samuel Eyre

Margaret’s next bequest is to her nephew Sir Samuel Eyre, son of her sister Anne Aldersey and Robert Eyre, barrister, of Salisbury and Chilham. Sir Samuel Eyre was born in 1633, and inherited the estate of Bonhams from his great-uncle William Eyre. He was a lawyer of some emminence and one the the puisne judges of the Kings Bench. Margaret Blechynden names Samuel Eyre as her Executor later in the will and leaves to him her “small Diamond ring and my pair of Golds called a double Spur: royal”. From what I understand the gold Spur Royal was a coin struck in very limited numbers during the reign of James 1. Today only 20 are thought to be in existance. Presumably they had a rarity value when Margaret made her will in 1682 which is why she specifically refers to them unlike the “five broad pieces of gold” she gives to her sons.

Margaret also gives to Samuel Eyre’s wife her “small sapphire ring with two small diamonds”. Samuel Eyre’s wife is Martha Lucy, third daughter and co-hieress of Francis Lucy Esq (fifth son of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote). Through this marriage Samuel Eyre acquires the estate of Brightwalton in Berkshire.

My Lady Thynne

Margaret Blechynden then refers to “my Lady Thynne” and bequeathes to her a “ring of Three Diamonds and two deaths heads” which her mother gave to her. There are two possible options here. My Lady Thynne could refer to her cousin Mary Coventry who married Henry Frederick Thynne. It is possible that Mary’s mother Elizabeth Aldersey gave Margaret Blechynden a ring which she then returns to her daughter. When Henry Frederick Thynne makes his will in 1678 his wife Dame Mary Thynne is named so may still be alive when Margaret makes her will in 1682. The alternative option is that the rings were given to Margaret Blechynden by her cousin Mary Coventry/Thynne and that “my Lady Thynne” is a reference to her daughter-in-law Frances Finch who married Thomas Thynne of Longleat who became the second baronet after his father’s death in 1679/80.

View of Longleat, 1678, Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Thomas Thynne was made 1st Viscount Weymouth on 11 December 1682 and it appears as if close family ties remained between the Blechyndens and the Thynne’s as, in his will dated 1709, Thomas Thynne mentions “his kinsman Captain Blechynden and to his son, the testator’s godson 50l. each“. Captain Blechynden is Theophilat, son of Margaret and Thomas Blechynden.

Margaret Blechynden also bequeathes to “my Lady Thynne” her french enamelled ring which was given to her by “my Lady Savile having her haires in it”.   Lady Savile is, I believe, her cousin Anne Coventry, wife of Sir William Savile and mother of Lord Halifax mentioned above. This very personal item, along with the various bequests, does suggest a close relationship between Margaret Blechynden and her surviving sisters, her Coventry cousins and their families. There are a couple of Coventry cousins not mentioned in the will that are worth mentioning briefly here: Dorothy Coventry who was famed for her intellect, her writings and her piety. She married Sir John Packington and died in 1679. Second, Margaret Coventry who died in 1649 when just 29. Her husband was Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. Here, close family relationships end, as the Lords Halifax and Shaftesbury became bitter political rivals and most famously debated, for many hours, the second Exclusion Bill in the House of Lords, with the eloquence of Halifax carrying the day for the King. This debate is credited with leading to the creation of the two political parties – the Whigs and the Tories.

Final Bequests

For completion, I have set out the remaining items of Margaret Blechynden’s will. Other than her children named I haven’t been able to identify the following:

  • Mrs Margaret Jones of Chester is given two pairs of Golds wrapt about a black ribbon;  
  • Her wedding ring, seven other small rings, and any remaining Golds are to be divided between her three unmaried daughters and son Theophilat;
  • Her daughter Anne receives one of Margaret’s Silver Porringers and spoons and Mr J Wight gets the other of them;
  • Mrs Tate, formerly Mrs Guyn, is given her silver tankards and her daughter her silver cordial cup and spoons.

Blechynden almshouses

Finally, after all debts being paid and funeral costs discharged Margaret leaves the “rest and residue of my Estate” to the building of a house for “Six poore Widdows and in purchasing of lands of Inheritance for their support and the repairing of the house forever”. She entrusts this final charitable act to her Executor, her nephew Sir Samuel Eyre who, in 1684, purchased a site in Winchester Street in Salisbury for £120 10s. and built the almshouse on it for £99 15s. 9d.. I understand that these are still operational today and provide sheltered accommodation.

Dr Thomas Blechynden and Margaret Aldersey

This post will focus on Thomas Blechynden, Doctor of Divinity, and his wife Margaret Aldersey. Dr Thomas Blechynden was a distant cousin of Thomas Blechenden. They were direct decendents of James Blechenden but decended down the lines of his two wives. The Thomas Blechenden who married Elizabeth Boys inherited the family home of Simnells in Aldington in Kent and the Thomas Blechynden who married Margaret Aldersey inherited Ruffyns Hill in Aldington.

The extract from my ancestry tree shows that they were of the same generation and, as contemporaries who died just a year apart, they lived through the same political and religious upheaval. But their lives took a very different path. Thomas Blechenden studied law at Gray’s Inn and was involved in public affairs in Kent but lived relatively quietly whilst Dr Thomas Blechynden studied at Cambridge, entered the Church, enjoyed Royal patronage but who was also thrown into prison at the start of the Civil War in 1642.

Thomas Blechynden was the eldest son of Humphrey Blechynden and Mary Toke and the eldest of eight children (not all of whom survived infancy) . He was born in Aldington in Kent and baptised at the local Church in January 1592/3. As the eldest son of a well-connected country gentleman Thomas would have received a good education and in 1609, when Thomas was 16 he went to study at St John’s, Cambridge, receiving his B.A. 1612-13. Thomas continued his studies and received his M.A. in 1616; B.D. in 1624 and D.D. in 1635. D.D. is the degree of Doctor of Divinity. This is the highest of the degrees awarded by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It often appears in the sources as ‘STP’, that is Sanctae Theologiae Professor. It also sometimes appears as ‘Theo. dcr.’ and as ‘STD’ (Sanctae Theologiae Doctor).

So, it would seem that Thomas Blechynden had no interest in managing the family estates and headed instead for a career in the Church. Following his ordination in Peterborough Cathedral on 23 May 1619, and whilst still a Fellow of St John’s, he was appointed household Chaplain to Francis, Lord Russell of Thornhaugh, 4th Earl of Bedford. Through his patronage he was appointed Rector of Sowton in Exeter in 1625, a position he held for the next 10 years. In 1627 he was also appointed Rector of Norton Fitzwarren in Somerset via the patronage of Edward Bourchier, 4th Earl of Bath, a position he held until 1638.

The Earl of Bedford was heavily involved in the programme to drain the Fens and correspondence survives between The Earl of Bedford and Sir Henry Vane, Ambassador at the Hague about this. There is an interesting element to the letters which indicates the close relationship between Thomas Blechynden and the Earl and Countess of Bedford as it would seem that the Earl planned to settle two of his younger sons in the “Low Countries” and the Countess asked Thomas to go with them and see them settled there. Perhaps accompanying the children abroad wasn’t in the job description of household Chaplain as the Earl, in his letter of 25 July 1630 to Sir Henry Vane, says he “hopes this will not be a cause of misunderstanding between him and Mr. Blechenden.

There is also a letter dated 2 November 1630 from Thomas Blechynden to Sir Henry Vane which suggests that he was, or was angling for, a position as Sir Henry’s chaplain. The letter also passes on news from the Earl about the work to progress the draining of the Fens. Here is a summary of his letter from the Calendar of State papers (and a slightly fuller version is also here):

On 17th October, the Earl of Bedford countermanded former directions for the writer to see his two sons to Leyden, because the Lord Treasurer had made some alteration in the business of the Fens, which reason of delay is to the writer a mystery. Would have waited upon Sir Henry as chaplain, but was informed from “my Lady” that Mr. Vane had gone over in that capacity. If Sir Henry commands the writer to attend him in the States, begs the favour of a previous letter to the Bishop of London. Congratulations on the birth of a son. P.S. dated the next day adds, that a fresh letter from the Earl of Bedford explains that the stoppage in the business of the Fens arises out of a misunderstanding of Vermuyden’s former proceedings; but he is well esteemed here, and the business of draining is now conceived so feasible, that the Earl will have sharers sufficient in England to carry him through that vast undertaking. He will reserve a considerable quantity of acres for Sir Henry.

‘Charles I – volume 175: November 1630’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1629-31, ed. John Bruce (London, 1860), pp. 371-396. British History Online

It would seem that Thomas was made chaplain to Sir Henry Vane, as in 1631/2 a letter from Bishop Laud to Sir Henry refers to Thomas as “Sir Henry’s Chaplain”. The letter suggests that Laud held Thomas Blechynden in esteem or, as a minimum, held Sir Henry in esteem and wanted to assist his chaplain.

My very good Lord, I wish you all health and happiness in your employment. I shall according to my promise, take all the care I can for Mr. Blechenden’s business. But sure, if Dr. Anyon have denied Dr. Hunt his dividend in the church of Canterbury, it is not with any eye to Sir Henry’s chaplain, but to increase their own dividend; for it hath been the custom in that church, and in some others, to allow some small proportion to him that lives absent, and when the audit comes, to share the remainder among themselves, towards their charge of housekeeping upon the place. And howsoever, if they refuse to give the Dean of Durham anything at all, yet Mr. Blechenden cannot challenge any part of it, being as yet no prebend there. And whosoever caused your Lordship to write in that way did much deceive both himself and you. For the business, if I live to see the place made void, I shall fail in no point of trust, but be ready to move His Majesty for Mr Blechenden.

Letter CCXXXV to Sir Henry Vane, January 27 1631/2. Scott, W., Bliss, J., Laud, W. (1860). The Works of the Most Reverend Father in God, William Laud, D.D. Sometime Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. United Kingdom: John Henry Parker.

Royal Patronage

I find the comment made by Bishop Laud that Thomas Blechynden was “as yet no prebend” puzzling. The very useful Church of England Clergy database says that on 14 September 1631 that he was presented for appointment to the Prebendary of Canterbury Cathedral and this time his patron was King Charles I. It is possible that the Bishop rejected the presentation, but is that likely given the King was the patron? Whatever the matter here, Thomas was presented again by the King on 15 November 1633 by which time William Laud was the Archbishop of Canterbury and this time there seems to be question of Thomas’ appointment. Notes to the presentation indicate that Thomas was “royal chaplain in ordinary to King Charles” which would have been a largely honorary, albeit still prestigious, role but could have meant he preached occasionally at the Royal Chapel or to other members of the Royal family. Royal patronage and the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury could have set Thomas Blechynden on the path to much greater things if it wasn’t for the Civil War and, by 1649, the execution of both Archbishop Laud and King Charles.

In addition to his position as a prebend of Canterbury Cathedral in 1638 Thomas Blechynden was appointed Perpetual Vicar of Eastry with Worth and in 1639/40 Vicar of Kingston, Kent. The Parish Registers of St Giles make reference the Return of the Churchwardens to the Visitation in 1640 with a note on “Dr Blechindin” which helps confirm his recent appointment there:

“Dr. Blechindin’s Chancel wants Tyling, and it doth rain in upon the Communion table.”

The Parish Registers of S. Giles, Kingston by Rev. Christopher Hales Wilkie, published 1893

Both of these later positions – in Eastry and Kingston – he held until his death in 1662 although it is unknown whether he had access to the livings from these two parishes during the Commonwealth. The Parish Registers of S. Giles, Kingston by Rev. Christopher Hales Wilkie, are also helpful in that they contain a short biography of Thomas Blechynden D. D. which helps to provide further evidence of his family:

There is one further possible appointment in Esher as there is a letter from Thomas Blechynden to William Dell, Secretary to Archbishop Laud, about a “insolent work of darkness” which took place in the Church to remove the altar rail and which names a number of suspects. Thomas refers to a witness to the act Katherine Gill, a “poor woman” of “ill life and fame” and there is an unsettling, unchristian threat made in the letter which does not make me think highly of him:

I shall labour to have her confess it to some other; she is threatened with the pulling down of her house, and subtraction of maintenance when I am removed to Canterbury.

Charles I – volume 460: July 14-23, 1640′, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1640, ed. William Douglas Hamilton (London, 1880), pp. 475-508. British History Online 

Margaret Aldersley

Thomas Blechynden spent his early years in study, advancing his career and building up a network of powerful friends and allies. By the time he was 41 he was prebendary to Canterbury Cathedral with no less than the Monarch as his patron and an ally in the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. His attention then turned to marriage, and perhaps recognising the need for a future heir to the family estate he turned his eye on young Margaret Aldersley. They were married in 1635 when he was 42 and she just 18 years old!

Thomas and Margaret’s license to marry

Their marriage license is difficult to read but it says something like: “Which day appeareth formally Thomas Blechynden one of the prebendary of Christ Church of Canterbury bachilour aged 42 years and allegedly he intendeth to marry with Margaret Aldersey of the parish of St Katherine Coleman Street London maiden aged 18 years  and the lawful and real daughter of Samuel Aldersey merchant deceased, and she at y disposal  of her mother-in-law [i.e. step-mother] Margaret Aldersey who consents to this intended marriage.  And of the month …. Also that there is no lawful lot or impediment by reason of any existant …….affinity or otherwise to hinder the so intended marriage ho made faith and do first …. to be married in the church  of St Faiths London or in ye …Church of St Leonard Foster Lane London….”. The marriage was attested to by Thomas’ younger brother Richard Blechynden who is a silkman living in Paternoster Row, close to Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London.

Margaret Aldersey was the daughter of Samuel Aldersey of Bunbury in Cheshire an influential and generous member of the Habadashers Company who died in 1633 and was buried in the Chancel of St Stephen’s, Coleman Street. St Stephen’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren but destroyed again in the blitz, 29 December 1940 but there is happily, the following record of his burial:

In the Chancel lies buried the Body of Mr. Samuel Aldersey, Merchant Citizen and Haberdasher of London, July 25. 1633. His Hatchments and Ensigns proper to his Name and Estate, hang over him.

John Strype’s A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, Coleman Street Ward [Monuments]Vol 1, 1753

We should take a moment to pause on Samuel Aldersey and the significance of St Stephen’s in Coleman Street as it speaks volumes about the type of person that Margaret probably was and the family that Thomas was marrying into. The parish of Coleman Street was a notorious hotbed of religious radicalism – not only in the parish church of St Stephen’s but in the merchant houses and the taverns and inns nearby. Samuel Aldersley was at the centre of that in the early 1600s. He was well known by the Dutch community in London (his first wife, Mary Van Oyrel, was Dutch) and also by the elders of the Dutch Reformed Church. Samuel was a vestryman at St Stephen’s and helped to appoint the leading Puritan minister John Davenport to the Church in 1624. Samuel Aldersey was also one of the three founding members of the Massachusetts Bay Company which was formed in 1628 as a joint stock venture to trade in the fish and furs of New England but leading members of the company also wanted to use it to promote the founding of a Puritan religious commonwealth.

Sir Norton Knatchbull and Mary Aldersey, 1629

Samuel’s sister Mary married firstly Thomas Westrow, Alderman of London and secondly Sir Norton Knatchbull (not to be confused with his nephew also Sir Norton Knatchbull, Baronett, who as a “dear friend” is one of the overseers of Thomas Blechynden’s will) and we can assume therefore that they knew each other well. People seemed to move in quite small social circles and I found it interesting to note that Sir Norton’s first wife was Ann Wentworth, eldest daughter of Paul Wentworth who was in turn the brother of Peter Wentworth, grandfather to Elizabeth Boys, and the wife of the other Thomas Blechenden mentioned at the start of this post. Sir Norton Knatchbull, Baronett, also married Dorothy Westrow, the daughter of Thomas Westrow and Mary Aldersey, shortly after Mary remarried to Sir Norton Knatchbull (senior).

Thomas and Margaret’s children

Thomas and Margaret married in 1635 and quickly had children, six in total: Anne (bap 1636), Mary (bap 1640), Thomas (bap 1641), Margaret (bap 1642), Theophilact and Dorothy. The first four children are all baptised at Canterbury Cathedral -appropriate given Thomas’ position as a prebendary of the Cathedral – but I have not been able to find baptism records for Theophilact and Dorothy.

Things probably started taking a worrying turn for Thomas in 1640 when Archbishop William Laud was arrested for Treason and I would imagine questions were asked about his friends, family and those he appointed to prominent positions. The start of the English Civil War started in earnest on 22 August 1642 when King Charles left London and raised his standard in Nottingham with the first battle at Edgehill in October that year. This changed everything for Thomas and Margaret. He lost his position at Canterbury Cathedral and later in 1642 by order of the House of Commons was ordered to be remanded to prison.

Although we don’t know where Theophilact and Dorothy were baptised during this period of war, disruption and uncertainty, it is perhaps telling that the name of his youngest son means “guarded by God”.

The Civil War years and beyond will be covered in my next post.